John Taylour, the “Water-Poet,” wrote in 1630:
“In London, and within a mile, I ween
There are jails or prisons full fifteen
And sixty whipping-posts and stocks and cages.”
Church and city records throughout England show how constantly these whipping-posts were made to perform their share of legal and restrictive duties. In the reign of Henry VIII a famous Whipping Act had been passed by which all vagrants were to be whipped severely at the cart-tail “till the body became bloody by reason of such whipping.” This enactment remained in force nearly through the reign of Elizabeth, when the whipping-post became the usual substitute for the cart, but the force of the blows was not lightened.
The poet Cowper has left in one of his letters an amusing account of a sanguinary whipping which he witnessed. The thief had stolen some ironwork at a fire at Olney in 1783, and had been tried, and sentenced to be whipped at the cart-tail.
“The fellow seemed to show great fortitude, but it was all an imposition. The beadle who whipped him had his left hand filled with red ochre, through which, after every stroke, he drew the lash of the whip, leaving the appearance of a wound upon the skin, but in reality not hurting him at all. This being perceived by the constable who followed the beadle to see that he did his duty, he (the constable) applied the cane without any such management or precaution to the shoulders of the beadle. The scene now became interesting and exciting. The beadle could by no means be induced to strike the thief hard, which provoked the constable to strike harder; and so the double flogging continued until a lass of Silver End, pitying the pityful beadle thus suffering under the hands of the pityless constable, joined the procession, and placing herself immediately behind the constable seized him by his capillary pigtail, and pulling him backwards by the same, slapped his face with Amazonian fury.